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Out-Law News 2 min. read

Employers’ group calls for major immigration reform post-Brexit

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has called on the government to make significant changes to the UK immigration system in order to improve access to skills in the future.

In its new report (41 page / 1.27MB PDF), the CBI said the UK needed to build an immigration system that was “predictable and uncontentious” and allowed businesses to access international labour with certainty.

The CBI said the government should drop its net migration target and focus instead on ensuring that people coming to the UK were making a positive contribution to the economy.

It recommended reform to the ‘Tier 2’ visa programme for skilled workers to remove the cap on the number of people who can be awarded a visa each year, currently limited to 20,700. The CBI also said that the Tier 2 regime should not be limited to graduates earning £30,000 or more a year, in order to allow employers to access a wider range of skills.

The CBI said extending the Tier 2 regime to EU citizens after Brexit would be “entirely unworkable” for businesses. Instead, the government should establish a new system for non-EU immigration that includes compulsory registration for EU citizens after they arrive in the UK, it said.

EU citizens’ stays should be limited to three months unless they can prove they are working, studying or self-sufficient, the CBI added.

The report also recommended that the government should guarantee the rights of EU citizens already in the UK, even if the UK and EU fail to reach a deal over the terms of Brexit.

The CBI said there should be a two-year transition period to allow businesses to adapt to the new rules.

It said the tone of the debate around immigration should shift “to focus on the positive benefits and send a signal that the UK is open for business and an attractive place to study, work and build a career”.

After taking evidence from 129,000 businesses across a wide range of industry sectors, the CBI said mobility was “as important” as migration, with many companies needing to move staff easily around Europe at short notice.

The report said the current non-EU immigration system was inaccessible for most companies and was the reason why many businesses relied on EU labour. As a result, extending this to EU citizens after Brexit would harm the UK economy.

Immigration expert Euan Smith of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said the report was a “fair reflection” of the views of UK employers wanting to recruit from overseas.

“In particular, the concerns expressed over the current limits on the number of skilled workers and the complexities of the Tier 2 system reflect the feedback we receive from clients,” Smith said.

“We would hope that the government does take account of these views and recommendations. It is important however to appreciate that the government has passed the role of recommending the design of a new post Brexit migration system from 2021 to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC),” Smith said.

Smith said the MAC is due to deliver a final report in September. Its role includes reviewing the impact of European Economic Area migration “on the wages and employment opportunities of the resident workforce, on prices, on training, on productivity, on the public finances, on public services such as health, education, and social housing, and on wider issues of cohesion, integration and well-being”. 

“The interim report published at the end of March was not especially positive for employers. The MAC is comprised of economists and takes an evidence led approach,” Smith said. “It acknowledges that from time to time the government may wish to take policy decisions outside the scope of its recommendations. Employers may have to hope that the government is willing to do so in this case.

In June the government set out plans for the new ‘settled status’ for EU citizens who are already in the UK. Settled status will not be granted automatically and every EU citizen who wants to stay and work in the UK after Brexit will need to apply.

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